Published: September 19, 2017
Review and Photos by Andrea Valluzzo, W.A. Demers and Greg Smith
BRIMFIELD, MASS. – The fall edition of Brimfield Antiques Week, September 5-10, brought out buyers from near and far for one last mega-bargain shopping spree to tide them over until spring. Like the goods for sale, the weather was all over the place, starting out hot and muggy and then cooler and wet before ending with sunshine.
The joys of Brimfield are that you never know what will turn up in the next booth, and this year’s show did not disappoint, with enough boxes and piles of vintage clothing and jewelry to sort through to send any fashionista’s pulse racing and the rare gems ripe for the picking. Social media this week were filled with posts from happy shoppers crowing of such finds as a Confederate uniform button, a cherry red pedal car and a monumental Boston Baked Beans stoneware pot.
On Tuesday, the buying kicked off in earnest with just over a dozen fields, small and large, opening up. Most open at daybreak or early morning, allowing buyers to release their pent-up excitement with hundreds of booths from which to choose.
After a quick breakfast to recharge energy levels, buyers head over to the one-day-only Dealer’s Choice, which opens at 11 am and has space for 400 dealers.
Chris Tella of Waltham, Mass., set out a table laden with vintage radios. The dealer also trades in coin-op, jukeboxes, phonographs, antique cameras and more.
Brimfield is renowned for featuring striking objects that attract lots of double-takes, and among the standouts this year were several small animal skeletons, mounted on stands at Eklectibles, Seminole, Fla., and a 16-foot-tall Cracker Jack inflatable at Bachelor Hill Antiques, Walterboro, S.C., which could be seen from way across the field.
“We had a very good show. We sold a wide variety of items, including midcentury furniture, Asian items, gold and silver jewelry, rugs and vintage clothing. We will happily be back next year,” said Linda Miller and Don Gregorius, Antiques of Woodstock, Woodstock, N.Y.
While many women could be seen poking through an abundance of vintage clothing and jewelry – from 1960s cocktail dresses and colorful Bakelite bracelets to fur stoles and estate jewelry pieces – some of their male companions found themselves drawn to Ken Hamilton’s Historical Americana, Lexington, Ky., which had Winchester shotguns, powder horns and edged weapons.
Over at the Midway Antiques Show, also produced by Lori Faxon, who runs Dealer’s Choice, cast iron collectors had a field day with more than a dozen vintage examples of skillets and baking pans in the booth of Brian Eatough, Somerville, Mass.
By a quarter to 1, a good-sized crowd was standing – and sitting – alongside the roadside, on the other side of the fenced entrance to the Brimfield Acres North field. The gates opened just shy of 1 pm, and while it might be inaccurate to say people ran in, most were certainly walking briskly, determined to get first pick of where they were going.
Buyers were picking up on things like the ship paintings and a carved whale sign on offer at Charles Gardiner Antiques, Ashburnham, Mass., or a two-sail pond boat at Joe Collins, Middletown, Conn.
Wouldn’t you know that Tuesday’s fine but hot weather would be followed by a chilly soaker on Wednesday. About 50 or 60 hardy souls were lined up at the main entrance to New England Motel prior to its 6 am opening, according to the field’s co-owner Marie Doldoorian, ” I just still enjoy seeing our dealers and customers come back,” she said. “The merchandise just blows me away.”
As fitful drizzle turned to heavier and constant rain, much of the early shopping action was seen inside the field’s three covered pavilions where many of the high-end dealers display their collections protected from the elements.
Doing business here as usual was Asian arts specialist James Dolph of JSD Antiques, Durham, N.H., who offered an interesting jade and metal hairpiece, as well as a boulder mountain carved from rare ruby-zoisite and depicting figures near a pavilion with pines and flowering trees. It was not an antique, probably from the 1980s-90s, Dolph explained, but nonetheless it was worth a lot due to the rarity of material from which it was carved. For those who ascribe magical properties to objects, it may be priceless. The ruby in zoisite is said to convey happiness, appreciation, abundance, vitality and growth, according to Asian lore, while zoisite allegedly alleviates grief, anger, despair and defeat. Lots of healing in that stone!
Also well protected inside a covered pavilion was the impressive vintage cowboy boot collection of Christy Solomon from Dallas, Ga. The number and variety of Western footwear lined up along one aisle was breathtaking, and shoppers were seen tottering on one leg attempting to keep their balance as they tried them on. Solomon said that she once was a general line dealer, but began collecting cowboy boots at the Round Top shows in Texas. When the US economy tanked in 2009, she noticed that while her general line of antiques was languishing, boot sales continued strong. Today, she solely (bad pun) trades as Bootitude, and her collection numbers more than 500 examples.
They are not husband and wife – as so many antiques businesses are – but Ken Bailey and Tressa Mills from Holland, Mich., have a partnership that may be as enduring. They jointly acquire antique and vintage furniture pieces that in many cases are in very rough shape. As Finders Keepers, they then reclaim them and give them new life, with Ken providing the restoration work and Tressa handling the business side of things.
Decorator-oriented vintage and antique pieces are also the purview of Brianne and Sally Riley, a mother-and-daughter enterprise from Shelburne, Vt., who hunt for items that work in today’s style. They have been exhibiting at Brimfield for about ten years, variously at New England Motel, J&J and Hertan’s.
Here is just a brief list of the many items that were sporting sold stickers early in the day in the sumptuous booth space manned by Richard LaVigne of Knollwood Antiques – a circa 1900-20s English oaken hall bench; a circa 1930s English campaign settee; a Modernist sculpture by Gordon Roberts, circa 1970, titled “Torso” and made from salvaged chrome auto parts; a limestone sculpture, circa 1950s, attributed to Etienne Hadju, Paris; and an early paper and oil collage on canvas by Henry Lewis, circa 1989, depicting a variety of necklaces, bracelets and loose gemstones.
Just down the street on Route 20, Heart-O-The-Mart opened at 9 am, with shoppers surging through the opening gates to find their favorite dealers. The field was a bit soggy, but the steady rain had attenuated into a fine mist and dealers did their best to conduct business under their own tents or canopies.
Things were getting frisky in front of the large white tent housing the vast array of circus, sideshow and carnival material offered by Burlington, N.J-based obnoxiousantiques.com. Stepping up to a podium that was formerly part of the famous Ward Hall sideshow, “Wild Bill” Adams in barker’s costume – well, actually a mummer’s parade outfit – lifted his cane up for a photo op. According to John Polito, who has worked in the business for some 47 years, the firm buys all of its merchandise directly from carnivals. Asked if they were acquiring any Barnum & Bailey Circus material following the beloved show’s ceasing of operations, Polito said, “It’s on our radar.”
Inside another big white tent toward the rear of the field, ladies were checking out the antique and vintage clothing displayed on racks by The Victorian Lady. The business is the brainchild of Sue McLane of Johnstown, N.Y., who professes to love all things Victorian. In addition to historic fashions, she also offers cultural education talks, exhibits and workshops on Victorian and women’s history themes, often dressed in appropriate Nineteenth Century fashions. One of these is a reenactment titled “Walks with Elizabeth” in which McLane takes participants along the paths familiar to Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the daughter of a Johnstown judge and New York State politician. Stanton, according to McLane, “lighted the fires in ordinary women to speak out and begin their own revolution for equal rights during the repressive Nineteenth Century.”
A table covered in miniature (nonworking) plastic telephones from the wired age’s heyday was getting attention at Marion Antiques Shop. There were all kinds – standard rotary models, push-button, Princess models, etc – and all came from a trove of 10,000 that owner Frank Namee had purchased from a Florida warehouse. Namee speculated that the toys may have been salesman samples given out to children of households that were having real telephones installed. “That way, the kids could pretend to make calls without actually running up the family phone bill,” he said. At Brimfield mainly to promote upcoming auctions, Namee previewed one that is scheduled for November 25, a combination of some local Fall River and New Bedford estates and offering several paintings by William Preston Phelps (1848-1917), an American artist known as “the Painter of the Monadnock,” as well as a collection of Swiss and German paintings.
Two great things happened at noon – the bell was rung at Hertan’s, signaling the opening of the last paid show of the day and the sun actually began peeking out of a gray sky.
Hertan’s quickly became alive with commerce, shoppers wending through the woodsy market and dealers lifting up the sides of their tents to reveal merchandise.
Items ranged from an Inuit carving of a Native catching a fish shown by Horsefeathers Antiques, Kansas City, Mo., to choice stoneware brought by Blairstown, N.J., dealer Tom Keady, to a collection of rag dolls, most from Pennsylvania and New England, circa 1800s, by Stonecraft Antiques, Garyville, Penn., and much more.
Paul Murphy of Sutton, Mass., was taking no chances in being beguiled by the favorable turn in the weather. He kept some great examples of Twentieth Century folk art, a slate blue firkin, an Eighteenth Century santos, bronco weathervane and some early boxes in the back of his van, tail door up so that they could be viewed but kept as dry as the color and surface of the firkin.
Daniel and Karen Olson, Newburgh, N.Y., dealers specializing in Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century American country antiques, were set up under a canopy showcasing three great pieces that included a Long Island knuckle armchair from about the 1780s, another New York knuckle-arm example from around the same time and an early table with a pine top and stretcher base, circa 1740-70.
May’s Antiques Market
Forty-one years after its first opening bell, May’s Antiques Market still holds to its heart the idea that an untouched field offers buyers the best buying environment that can be found anywhere. “It used to be that dealers couldn’t even set up their tent until 15 minutes before the opening bell, but we’ve relaxed a little. People are getting older,” said Martha May, the show’s manager.
Thirty minutes before opening, the Mays could be found riding around the field in a golf cart, ensuring that the field’s golden rule was being followed by all.
“It’s not fair to the other dealers and the customers,” said Charles May, as he delivered a stern warning to an errant dealer that set up his tables without covering them with a cloth afterward. “Get a cover on that right now,” he said, as he drove off into the field, the dealer heeding his warning and covering his tables behind him.
The early morning overcast may have pushed a few people away from the gates that Thursday morning, but when they opened at 9 am, the field started humming as buyers began to wedge their purchases under their arms and carry what they could in their hands.
Don Heller walked out of Derik Pulito’s booth with a 1720-60 Connecticut River Valley tavern table. Pulito had just purchased the table at an auction and had intentions of saving it for a later show, but brought it along to Brimfield on a whim. The table had provenance to the Aaron brothers, a pair of notorious pickers in the Connecticut Valley during the prewar era to the 1960s.
“A tavern table that is joint stool-size is as rare a thing as you can find in Americana,” said Heller, who added that there was a Sack appraisal for it.
A large slate blackboard in a carved and painted frame welcomed buyers to the booth of Russell Parker from Welcome Home Antiques, Kingston, Mass. With a carved crab atop and an equally detailed lobster beneath, the board bore the name of its original owners, The Yarmouth Lowestoft Shellfish Company, and likely served as the menu board for its daily catch. As a pair of buyers ogled the piece for their Cape Cod home, Parker assured them that it would look good in their house, sight unseen.
Greg Hamilton from Stone Block Antiques, Vergennes, Vt., was found lounging under blue skies as the morning gave way to midday and the clouds disappeared. His makeshift chaise longue included a set of three Queen Anne second period chairs from the 1880s, with original paint, rush seats and turned spindles.
“It’s been a good week; I’ve sold a lot of furniture, art and silver,” he said, as he looked around his booth from his comfortable seat.
And even when things start to blend together, when one booth of glass starts to look like another booth of glass, you walk by a dealer like Louis J. Dianni, who featured, on his table of antique arms and swords, a knife and fork made for a one-armed person that dated to 1637. The steel utensil featured all-over engraving with handsome wear and a leather scabbard with brass mounts. The piece looked no different than a modern, rounded end butter knife, but with a three-tine fork that pointed upward off the end.
As noon rolled around, buyers could be seen exiting the field with their purchases in their wagons, bags and five-finger grips.
Many dealers reported solid sales, an indication that the rain from earlier in the week pushed the hungry hordes to wait for the better weather that Thursday brought with it. “There was concern for rain, but we are fortunate that it held off,” said Martha May.
J&J At Brimfield Auction Acres
The fog lifted off the early morning field at J&J At Brimfield Auction Acres at 6:30 am and crept upward to a warming sun until it burned off completely. A line of crows, more than 20 of them, stood in a line on top of the big red barn that sits at the entrance to the field, watching the flood of people pile up behind the gates as everyone stood in waiting.
The two entrances at the front of the show could not be any different. One could call them the Type A and Type B lines. At the gate that runs along Palmer Road, the buyers form a horde that, come opening bell, engages in a full-on charge. As fruitless as it may be, it is easily understood: those are the folks that have been stuck in a crowd, with a fence in their face, the longest. The other entrance is more civil. The buyers organize themselves in a long line that snakes around the side of May’s parking lot to the side of the field. These people walk merrily across the bridge, abiding patiently by the order they queued into when the gate opens.
Regardless of their chosen entrance, all showgoers were greeted with a relaxed old-time song playing from one of the phonographs of the dealer closest to the entrance, Ken Woodbury of Nipper’s Choice. Woodbury has been doing the show for 30 years and usually sells between six and 20 phonographs per show from his extensive inventory.
It was intriguing to hear Woodbury talk about his clients and the kinds of people who have interest in the old music players. “We have interest from other countries, like China and Japan, and also Europe, though they made them there as well,” said Woodbury.
He said that regardless of the country, buyers want to hear old American audio from the selection of cylinder and disc phonographs that he keeps in stock, some with long, floral decorated horns and others that were more pragmatic, with horns that were short and black. Accordingly so, as the bell opened, Woodbury lined up a waltz from Richard Strauss as the buyers poured in. He smiled and said, “The Strauss Waltz.”
Walking through the booths, among the tables of small sculptures, glass, collectibles and jewelry, a familiar sight caught this writer’s (Greg) eye. A Nineteenth Century 12-pointed tin star with gold paint, raised on a stem, was found in the booth of Cozy Cat Antiques, Brookfield, Conn. And by familiar, I mean to say that it was the exact star that topped my Christmas tree throughout my childhood and was later sold in a downsizing. As one must, I bought it back. Perhaps the kids will tell me they don’t want it one day and I’ll get to keep it forever. The dealer also featured opalescent glass and a folk art painted bird on a stand.
A large table of cobalt decorated stoneware was out in front of Two Sides of a River Antiques, New London, N.H. The pieces ranged in decoration and origin, but the prices were reasonable, anywhere from $35 to $395.
Taylor Antiques, Mashpee, Mass., set up under a highly visible star-studded round-top tent. The dealer featured a 1789 painted officer’s pine chest with painted floral detail that swept along the bottom and crept up the sides. He assumed it was Confederate. Also shown was plenty of jewelry, early lighting and glassware.
The September show had more dealers in it than the May edition, which was a welcome boost to the end of the year for the new owners. Following a successful first season, Kate and Rusty Corriveau are looking forward to kicking their ambitions into high gear during the coming months. The new owners plan to open a winery in the iconic red barn that stands watch over the field, hoping to have it ready and operating for next May. They are also working with an auction house to host a sale in the barn for a future show, just as Gordon Reid did in the early days.
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